Roaming America’s South West

Road tripping is my absolute favourite way to travel. When you take a tour, you are stuck following around a tour guide. Similarly, when you take a train or a bus, you can’t choose when you stop and every moment is planned. Road trips allow freedom and independence. Road trips in North America are ESPECIALLY fantastic, because language barriers aren’t an issue and you generally know what to expect. Someday, I plan to write all about the 2 weeks road trip Dave and I took right before we left for Guiyang, but today, I’m going to write about the 4 days we spent travelling the South-western United States!

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Spoiler: It was one VERY beautiful roadtrip!!!

Leaving Nevada

We began our trip in Nevada, a couple of days after Jeff and Liz’s wedding. We rented a car from Budget, which we actually regret. We got on the road 2 hours late because they didn’t have a car ready for us when we arrived (we pre-booked, in case you’re wondering). After we started to make a bit of a stink, they actually called a car over from the airport location so that we could go on our way. The real kicker is that they charged us EXTRA when we returned the car back at the airport location because it wasn’t the original place where we booked it…

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When I asked Dave why he didn’t push for a discount after they made us wait 2 hours for our car, he told me that the receptionist was so snarky and slow that he was sure she’d just make us wait longer. I’d pass on Budget in Las Vegas…

I’d recommend Fox Renta Car instead, which is who my brother and sister in law rent from when they’re down in the Nevada area. I wish I’d known about them ahead of time. They seem to be a lot more customer service oriented. Either way… we DID get on the road eventually…
Zion National Park

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Although it took a while to get going, we arrived at Zion National Park with enough time to enjoy some views.

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Views like this šŸ™‚

Just outside of the park, there is a small town called Springdale. Utah does National Parks right…instead of driving into the park and trying to find parking (which is limited), you can take a shuttle directly from Springdale! We didn’t actually realize this, so we drove into the park ourselves, but we definitely made use of the free shuttle buses to get around within the park.

While on the shuttle, we learned about the park and saw some gorgeous sights. We were especially happy to have the shuttle service because we only had about 2 hours to see the park, which is not nearly enough time to really appreciate the magnificent landscapes of Zion Canyon. By using the shuttle service, we were able to hop on and off to see specific areas of the park.

My favourite tours are ones where I learn things about the surrounding area. Zion did this very well. While the bus is driving around the park, there is a recording that teaches you about the geological history of the area. We learned that Utah gets monsoons, that flash floods are responsible for the beautiful scenery. We also learned that different types of rock account for the various colours we saw within the park.

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A perfect example of colour diversity at Zion Canyon

We eventually wound up at the base of the canyon, where we could see the river that formed this beautiful area. Although it doesn’t look like much, the Virgin River is responsible for wearing down the rocks that surrounded us.

On our drive out, the sun finally began to shine, and that’s when I was able to capture the true beauty of Zion National Park.

Zion had one final gem to show us before we made our way to Cedar City for the night. The Checkerboard Mesa was quite a spectacular view, so we got out and took some final pictures of the area before moving on.


Bryce Canyon

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The following day, we continued onto Bryce Canyon; our second stop in Utah. Bryce is a lot like Zion, in that it has gorgeous rock formations and beautiful scenery. Somehow, though, I think it manages to be even MORE beautiful! The colours at Bryce Canyon are stunning and I couldn’t possibly take enough pictures.

We decided to hike into the canyon because we had more time than we had at Zion. I ended up with some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever taken.

It seemed like the further we went into the Canyon, the more colourful it became. The hoodoos (odd rock formations) really blew us away! When I started doing research on the canyon for this blog post, I learned that Bryce Canyon actually has the largest collection of Hoodoos in the entire world!

Unfortunately, we did eventually have to turn around. Although we’d planned a 5 mile hike, we only brought enough water for a 2 mile hike. We made it to the base of the canyon and then had to turn around. Still the views were gorgeous on the way back up (which is lucky because I needed something to distract me from how thirsty I was!!)!!


Onto Arizona

The following morning, we left Panguitch for Arizona. On the way, we stopped at The Rock Stop, a little store we’d discovered on our way to Bryce Canyon. The owner is one of the only people in Southern Utah to sell coffee, so if you’re down that way, be sure to check him out!!! He makes a mean iced latte, and sells all sorts of rocks and fossils. We picked up gifts for our nephews, and my brother while we were there, and had a few great chats with the owner.

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Pictured here: One of the only places to find coffee in Utah! Mormons typically don’t drink caffeine, so it’s tough to find your fix. This little shop is well worth the stop!!

The other cool little stop we made was a preview to the Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam is much smaller, but beautiful. We took some time to check it out and stretch our legs during this rather long part of our road trip.

Finally, after about 6 hours of driving, we made it to the mother of all Canyons: The Grand Canyon.

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The thing that we found most striking about the Grand Canyon is how big it is. It isn’t as colourful as Zion and it doesn’t have Bryce’s Hoodoos, but it’s so massive…it’s truly spectacular to see.

To give you an idea of scale, here are some comparisons:

Zion Canyon: 15 miles long – 1/2 mile deep

Bryce Canyon: 12 miles long – 1/2 mile deep (in it’s largest area)

Grand Canyon: 277 miles long – 1 mile (and a bit) deep

That’s a lot of canyon!!! It really never seemed to end!

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Once more, this entire canyon was formed by water. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have the time to hike into the Canyon, so we didn’t personally get to see the River up close.

Although there are several places you can see the Canyon (some viewpoints are only a few hours away from Vegas), we chose to see the South Rim near Flagstaff, Arizona. The South Rim is known for spectacular views. We were on the eastern part of the South Rim, which is important to note. The area near Las Vegas is also the South Rim, but it’s hours from where we were.

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The blue star is where most people go see the Canyon (closest to Las Vegas and where you can see the glass bridge). We were where the red star is, in the Arizona portion of the Canyon

Unfortunately, we were both pretty tuckered out at this point (and overheating), so we didn’t do any hiking, but we’d love to go back some day and see more of The Grand Canyon. With 277 miles to explore, I don’t think I could see it all in a lifetime!!!


The Hoover Dam

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Our final stop of the road trip was to see one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in American history: The Hoover Dam. The dam lays on the boarder between Arizona and Nevada and is now nearly 100 years old. It was built during the Great Depression as a way to control water flow into the area, with an added bonus of providing electricity to the surrounding area. This dam made it possible for people to make use of an otherwise useless portion of land, and it was quite the thing to see!

While we were there, the temperature was hovering around 47 degrees Celsius, so we took cover in the visitor center, where we learned about the dam’s history and functions.

There were plenty of displays set up and you could learn something no matter what happens to interest you . Dave was fascinated with the engineering and wanted to learn more about how the dam works, but I focused on the history of the dam and what it meant for the country. (Read the captions on the following pictures for more info)

Eventually, it was time to drop off our rental car and head to McCarran airport for our 8pm flight. We arrived in Winnipeg sunburned and pretty sore from our travels, but it was a worthwhile experience, to say the least!

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Winnipeg’s Skyline

***A Note to My Fellow Nomads***

If you’re thinking of taking a trip like ours, I had Dave make a map of our journey. We spent 2 full days on the road plus 2 half days. If it had been possible, I would have added an extra 2 days so we could have hiked in Zion and the Grand Canyon as well. I’d also have brought a hat on our hike in Bryce as well as additional water. Our drive looked like this:

Day 1: Vegas to Zion – Roughly 2.5 hours. Stayed in Cedar City – 1.5 hours from Zion. (You can stay closer to Zion, but prices drop significantly if you drive a bit towards Bryce)

Day 2: Cedar City to Bryce – 1.5 hours. We stayed in Penguitch (about a half hour away)

Day 3: Penguitch to The South Rim of the Grand Canyon – 5 hours. We then drove to Flagstaff for the night – 1.5 hours)

Day 4: Flagstaff to Vegas (with a pit stop at the Hoover Dam). Flagstaff to Dam – 3.5 hours. Dam to Vegas – Less than an hour

Total Driving: Around 16 hours in 4 days. Doable, with PLENTY to see along the way!

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I’ll be back soon with stories about our stay in Canada!

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas…the home of gambling, nightlife and buffets. Before heading to Manitoba for our annual visit, Dave and I had a 10 day detour planned that involved seeing two of our good friends get married in Sin City. Vegas was quite a change from the usual travelling we do (everyone speaks English there, for one…), so I thought it would be fun to write about our experiences.

Dave and I arrived in Vegas on a hot summer afternoon. I suppose that is a little repetitive, because “Vegas” and “hot” are fairly synonymous! The temperature was averaging around 40-45 degrees Celsius while we were there, with 5-10% humidity! My hair wouldn’t curl, my lips were so chapped they were bleeding and I was pounding back water like it was going out of style. Vegas took some getting used to…

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We were all DYING in this picture! We were directly in the sun. Notice the squinting!!!

Luckily for me, Dave had a lot of work to do so we were able to stay inside (with the AC on!) until about 5pm every day. I don’t handle heat well, so I was more than happy to spend the time indoors, prepping for next semester. As the afternoon came to a close, we’d leave our apartment and head out to see the sights…and the lights!
Las Vegas….home of Heat, Sights and Lights!

Neither Dave or I are really into gambling (I hate seeing my money disappear without at least making an awesome memory…), but we still spent our fair share of time in the casinos. They are far more spectacular than I expected them to be, and I have to admit, I enjoyed them much more than I thought I would. The architecture at Caesar’s Palace was out of this world, and the canals along the Venetian were gorgeous.

And of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without a stop by the Belagio (and its fountains!). We stopped by the fountains a few times. They’re just so beautiful! The hotel is also quite nice, although we didn’t spend a tonne of time going through it.

We did spend a bit of time in New York New York (yes…twice), but not so much for the casino as for for the show we saw there…
Las Vegas: home of Show girls, Show-offs and Shows!

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With so many different shows to see in Vegas, it’s nearly impossible to choose just one! Celine Dion, Brittany Spears and Donny and Marie Osmond all have permanent residencies there, and there are countless other musical performances coming and going out of Vegas in any given month. While we were there we saw ads for everyone from the Backstreet Boys, to Elton John, to Mariah Carey.

And if music isn’t what you’re into, you can see comedians, magicians, dancers and so much more! Blue Man Group is a popular show, and David Copperfield tickets sell for big bucks! There are also exhibits to see, such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, The Bodies Exhibit and a sort of museum full of artifacts from the Titanic.

Of course, you can’t talk about Vegas without bringing up one particular group of performers that defy gravity and wow audiences all over the world. Cirque de Soleil has 6 shows that run in Vegas daily. Dave and I always loved going to see Cirque when they came through Winnipeg when we lived in Manitoba, so I got smart and bought him tickets to a show for his birthday! There were so many to choose from, but ultimately, I chose Zumanity, because it was the most ‘Vegasy’ of the shows we could have seen. Cirque did not let us down. We loved the show and wished we’d had the time (and money!) to have seen Ka or O as well. Maybe the opportunity will arise some time in the future. I sure hope so!

Freemont is also a great stop if you want a fun time. There are free concerts there all the time. The night we arrived, Anne Wilson was performing, but we missed it because Jet Lag sucks. The night we were down on Freemont, Good Charlotte was playing. There are plenty of other things to do on Freemont as well. You can stop and take photos with buskers, see contortionists and even zipline above the historic road!

There you have it: Vegas: Home of bright lights, a surplus of shows and hellish heat. We had a great time during our week there, and our road trip was even better! Stay tuned for more on that!

Vancouver: My Favourite Place in Canada (Part 2)

With 60+ hour work weeks keeping me busy, it’s been rough keeping up a decent sleep pattern, but recently I’ve had some time free up, so here I am once more…back to the blog! Now that I finally have a spare moment, I thought it’s time that I finish blogging about our summer Holiday in Vancouver. I’ve saved my favourite 2 parts of our stay in BC for last.

But first, take a look at my latest work project:


Stanley Park

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Two of Stanley Park’s Famous Totem Poles

Canada in summer is a beautiful thing. People always ask me if it ever gets warm where I live, and I always have to laugh. It amazes me how many people abroad think that Canada is a bleak winter wonderland year-round. They don’t realize that we have 4 distinct seasons (some longer than others, I will admit) and that summer is actually quite lovely.

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A gorgeous day in Stanley Park

What I love about Canadian summers though, is that it’s just the right amount of heat. Summer in Suzhou (even in May and June) are oppressive, but Canada (especially Vancouver) has the perfect climate. We were lucky during our visit to the West Coast because it hardly rained. We had sunny skies and perfect weather most of the trip. I don’t feel like the weather was any more perfect than when we were at Stanley Park, though.

Everyone talks about how Stanley Park is a top destination in Vancouver, but I feel like it’s so much more than that. For me, Stanley Park was a refreshing step into nature and beauty and purity. We walked around the perimeter of the park, took detours down trails, hopped on the tram and sat by the sea side. It was such a gorgeous way to spend the day and I felt sort of like I did at Elephant Nature Park, where when it came time to go, I felt emotional about having to leave that amazing place.

Maybe it’s been my time in one of the world’s most polluted countries, but my love for trees has deepened over the past few years. I’ve always loved a forest trail, but now, I feel like I could just get lost in them and stay there happily forever. To be honest, that’s how I felt about Vancouver in general, but Stanley Park definitely was a high point in an already awesome week.


Whale Watching

The other highlight of our week in Vancouver was our trip to see wild orcas off the west coast of British Columbia. As someone who is morally opposed to companies like SeaWorld (see Blackfish or The Cove if you’re interested in knowing why), I was thrilled at the opportunity to see orcas in the wild, in their element, doing what orcas do.

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When we saw these massive animals come out of the water, we were totally floored!

There really aren’t any words that can describe how cool it was to watch the big male hunting for salmon right under our boat, or the juvenile spy-hopping with his aunt right near our boat. I couldn’t help but feel like these killer whales were putting on a show for us. At one point, after a successful hunt, they all started slapping their back fins on the water. Our ‘naturalist’ said that they don’t really know why whales do that, but they think it’s usually to do with celebration. How cool is that??

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My only regret is how choppy the water was when we were out on our tour. We were all getting soaked in the boat, so it was impossible for me to get my good camera out and get any closeup shots. Luckily, we also own a waterproof camera, so we had that one out the whole time, but of course, choppy waters = a splashed lens, so the shots weren’t always as clear as I’d have liked.

I promise though, that the memories we made that day will be imprinted in my memory forever…and those memories are sans salt water smudges šŸ˜‰

Here’s a video….I tried to keep it short so that you don’t feel sea sick watching it! (I definitely felt nauseous a few times when editing it down haha!!)

Vancouver: My Favourite Canadian Destination – Part 1

About a year ago, I purchased a map off of this neat website that had all sorts of unique and beautiful products. Although I loved the look of the map, it wasn’t just the design that encouraged me select it among the many choices the website offered. This map is special, because you can scratch off areas of the world that you’ve visited.

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About a month ago, Dave got around to making a proper mount for this beautiful map. He spent a few hours finding supplies on TaoBao, and a few hours making it, and I decided to take care of the fun stuff: scratching the places we’ve been! Being the travelers that we are, I figured that I’d spend hours scratching away. I was disappointed, however, to discover that so much of the world remains unseen by my eyes! So, tomorrow, we set out on our Golden Week Holiday to Xi’an, with our friend Kevin.

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Of course, now that Iā€™m about to head out on another adventure, I realized that I should probably write about our last adventure: Vancouver. So here it is, the post all of my Canadian readers have been waiting for! Part 1 of our stay Kitsilano, Vancouver!
Kits Beach and Area

When first pricing out hotels in Vancouver, we were a little overwhelmed with the cost of accommodations. Vacationing in Canada is EXPENSIVE when you compare it to the places we’ve been in Asia, so I was a little worried we’d need to forgo some of the things we wanted to do because hotel prices were so high. I’m pretty sure we are the luckiest people in the world though, because as it turned out, a good friend of ours was going to in Manitoba while we were in Vancouver, leaving her apartment in Kitsilano free for us to rent for the week! We couldn’t have planned the timing better if we’d tried!!

We fell in love with Kits pretty quickly. The beach was gorgeous, Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe was an adorable place to stop for a good breakfast, and we were a short walk or bus ride away from pretty much every thing we wanted to see. We were originally thinking of staying downtown, but I am SO glad we spent our time in this little suburb of Vancouver.
Downtown, Gas Town and Canada Place

Two days of our trip to Vancouver were spent exploring downtown and Canada Place. When I first visited Vancouver 8 years ago, I was blown away by its gorgeous skyline. Of course, now that I’ve traveled to cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and Mumbai, Vancouver seemed a little less spectacular, but the little areas in the city’s center still impressed me.

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Gas Town is probably my favourite area of down town. There are tonnes of little shops where you can find maple-flavoured everything and tonnes of little restaurants to try. Best of all, the architecture in Gas Town is pretty cool. I regret that I didn’t get many pictures of that particular area, because every time we visited it was after dark, and the area can be a bit shady. My camera is one of my most prized possessions, so it stayed tucked away in my bag.

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Gas Town’s Famous Clock

Canada Place was quite impressive too. The last time I was in Vancouver, it was all under construction because of the upcoming Olympic games, so it was nice to see it all finished. Dave especially enjoyed this part of our time downtown as he was able to watch planes take off while I hunted Pokemon!!

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Granville Island

Of all the places we visited in Vancouver, Granville island is where we spent the most time. We wound up on that sweet little island 4 or 5 times throughout our stay and this was mostly because we enjoyed walking down there so much! It took about 40 minutes to walk from Kits Beach to Granville island, but it was such a lovely walk through parks along the beach, that we tended to gravitate in that direction any time we went out.

Granville is the place to go if you want fresh sea food, craft beer, shopping or if you want to book a whale watching tour. There is also a lovely park on the island, where we walked around a few times…just to breath in the fresh air and admire the ducks and geese that hang out there.


Meeting New Friends

During our week in Vancouver, we met up with a couple of people that I’d never met before. Dave’s cousin, Michael, lives in the area so we met up with him and his girlfriend, Gabriella, during our stay in Kits. We hit it off, and I think we were all a little amazed at how much Dave and Michael are alike! This new friendship lead us to take a trip up to Mount Seymore for the Persius Meteor Shower, which was spectacular and unlike anything I had really experienced.

We also spent an evening down in New West Minister with an old friend of Dave’s. Sitting by the harbour, eating wings and poutine, was a fantastic way to spend a night in that lovely city. While enjoying our evening in New West, Kaitlin gave us lots of tips and ideas of places to go while in Vancouver. This led us to one of the most exciting parts of our stay in BC; the Vancouver observatory! While we were there, we were able to see a gorgeous view of Saturn (rings and everything!), a close up of the moon, and the Herculese star cluster, which happens to contain 300,000 stars and is 200 thousand light years away.

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The Vancouver Museum of Anthropology

Although we very much wanted to climb Grouse Mountain, I realized that after 6 days of being on my injured leg, walking 10km+ per day, I needed to take it easy(er). I did a quick look online to find a more low-impact activity for our last day in Kits, and came across the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology. It was a lovely visit and we saw everything from traditional and modern Aboriginal art, to 4000 year old pots.

It was difficult to even understand the number of artifacts this museum contains and I know that we could have easily spent an entire day (and then some…) exploring every little thing the museum had to offer. The museum has little areas for countless cultures and in each area, there are pull-out drawers that contained hundreds of small artifacts to admire. Although it wasn’t the most glamorous thing we saw in Vancouver, I’m really glad we made the stop.

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That’s it for part 1 of my post. In part 2, I’ll be writing about my 2 favourite parts of our stay in Vancouver: Stanley Park and seeing Resident Killer Whales off the coast of British Columbia!

Stay tuned!!!

Update Time!

It’s hard to believe how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! After 5 weeks in Manitoba and then 1 week in Vancouver, it’s an understatement to say that I was happy to sleep in my own bed again! Our cats were well cared for over the holiday and are happy as clams to have us home, back in our little routine. Poe continues to act as my alarm clock and Hugo seems to be even more cuddly than ever! Life is good here back in Suzhou!

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As you can see…she’s been VERY stressed…

Manitoba was a grand time. We were able to catch up with friends, spend time with family and I even got to meet my nephew, Zachary, for the first time. It’s funny because adults change so little from year to year, but the kids….WOW do they grow! I’m convinced that at least 1 of my nephews is going to be taller than me next year! My niece, Ellie, learned how to read over the past year and her little sister began talking…things change so much in their little lives while we’re away!

Our 5 weeks in Winnipeg were spent well. We were able to see a Fringe Show, visit the Forks and even visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! Last year had been too rushed to stop by this architectural marvel, but I really enjoyed our afternoon there, learning new things and being reminded of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I organized a Paint Night with some of my favourite gals and that turned out to be a tonne of fun! I’d recommend it as a fun night out to anyone who wishes they can paint or actually can paint! I have artistic skills in that way and mine still turned out pretty well! See!!!

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A good portion of my summer was spent outside. I was able to play at the pool with my nieces and nephew, sit around bonfires and spend LOTS of time outside! The air is so fresh and clean in Canada and the temperature is perfect for being outside. Currently, it’s sitting at about 40 degrees Celsius in Suzhou, so I definitely miss the Prairie temperatures already!

Oddly enough, it was a game that took up most of our time in Manitoba! Pokemon Go was all the rage back home and Dave and I spent countless hours walking around Steinbach and The Winnipeg Forks trying to catch a Pikachu or hatch a Snorlax. I was never lucky on either of those counts, but my sister managed to catch 3 of the little yellow Pokemon! I will forever be jealous, because Pokeman Go is banned in China. It runs through Google Maps, which is blocked by the Great Fire Wall, so there is no Pokeman here for us to play.

We also had our yearly BBQ at St. Malo Provincial Park! It was such a blast last year that we planned it out again this year. We had loads of people come down and spent the day out in the sun with ys, playing in the water and enjoying WAYY Y too much food!

It’s hard to point to a ‘favourite’ memory of our 2016 trip home, but the most inspiring event was definitely Steinbach’s 1st Pride Parade. Dave and I attended, expecting there to be a small crowd of maybe 100 or 200 people…little did we know that over 3500 people came in from all over the province for the event! There were actually people who flew in all the way from Orlando for Steinbach’s first pride. It was a pretty huge deal!

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The number of attendees was inspiring in of itself, but Steinbach’s reaction to the event was also good. The Automobile City has caught a lot of flack over the last few years for their stance on LGBT rights and a variety of other subjects. There have been issues within the school division over these matters and protests regarding bullying bills aimed at protecting LGBT students. But instead of holding a protest or causing a fuss over the parade, Steinbach let it happen.

There were plenty of spectators there who were watching the parade and there was a tonne of support. Many people in Steinbach have softened their views on homosexuality as they’ve grown to know people in the LGBT community or have learned that people in their own families are gay. I saw many signs that said things like ‘proud parent’ or ‘supportive parent’. It was really beautiful to see such acceptance in a city that has previously been branded intolerant. It was a huge step for Steinbach and although I know not everyone in the city agreed with the event…that’s not the point! It’s ok not to agree with it…I’m just happy no one showed up with eggs or protest signs. That’s what tolerance is, after all…accepting that people might thing differently than you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should give them the freedom to have their own beliefs.

So that is a very brief summary of our stay in Manitoba! Our final week in Canada was spent in Vancouver, which I will be writing about soon! I have 1 or 2 posts planned before I can get to our time on the West Coast, but I’m still off work until September 1st, so I should be able to get a fair amount of blogging in between now and then!

So, stay tuned for entertaining posts such as:

  • Beginning a new Semester in China…things teachers should know
  • Tips for new Expats living in Suzhou
  • Vivacious Vancouver: From Kits Beach to Stanley Park
  • Whale Watching off the West Coast of Canada